DIY Methods To Remove Water Stains From Wood Furniture

White Heat and water marks Can Be Very Upsetting And Unsightly When They Show Up On Your Furniture.




Discover the DIY methods used to remove unsightly white moisture stains from wood furnuture.

Water Ring Removal

A quick search on the internet will uncover dozens of "miracle methods" to remove these pesky white blotches from your table tops. It's easy, right?  BUT WAIT......before we put that hot iron to work on our expensive dining room table, there are a few things we should know.

In this Tutorial, we'll go over many methods to remove these white blotches. Most importantly, we'll discuss why some might work, and some might not depending on the finish involved.

What Finish Is It ?

Before attempting any type of  repair, its essential to know exactly what the finish is. You can do spot tests in an inconspicuous area like the underside of an apron, table top, or leg. If the finish dissolves easily in lacquer thinner, you've got lacquer. If it dissolves in denatured alcohol, its likely shellac. And if it doesn't dissolve in either, its probably a varnish of some kind.

Lacquer Finish

Lacquer itself has been used commercially on furniture since the 1920's, so lets keep in mind that a lacquer finish from lets say 1940, is a completely different animal than a lacquer finish from 2010.

As a rule of thumb, the older the finish, the easier water and heat rings should be to remove.

Shellac and oil Finish

Many antiques were finished with shellac, even after the introduction of lacquer.  Oil was used on a lot of woods such as teak or rosewood, as well as others and it was very highly used on danish style furnishings.




Understanding what causes these white blotches

Both water and heat can cause white blotches on wood finishes.  These milky white marks caused by moisture getting into the finish and creating voids, thus interfering with the finish’s transparency.

To remove milky-white watermarks, you need to consolidate or re-amalgamate the finish (eliminate the voids) to the point that the transparency is reestablished. Success is not predictable, but in general, a white watermark is easier to remove in the following circumstances: 1) the finish is older or in poor condition, 2) the shorter the time the watermark has been in the finish, and 3) the shallower the damage goes into the finish.

Okay, So where do we start?

It's always a good idea to start with the least invasive methods first, and work your way towards the more aggressive (and potentially damaging) methods.


In the video to the right,  I do just that, and demonstrate each product and procedure as I work through them.  I will add, that being a refinisher for the past 30 years I knew which products would work, and which wouldn't on this finish. So while some of these methods didn't work on this table......they may on yours!!!


"How To Video"

Testing many of the home remedy fixes we found by searching the internet.

Our test subject is a  modern lacquer dining table.




What We Learned In The Video

The finish on the subject table was modern version of lacquer, as the table was made in the 21st century.  It's unlikely that it was a catalyzed lacquer, due to the severity of the water and heat marks.  Typically on a modern lacquer finish, most home remedies won't work.

We did show you a method that worked exceptionally well and in the end we were able to remove almost all of the white haze on a very difficult test subject.

Keep in mind, that while some of these methods didn't work on the test finish, they will work on some - perhaps yours. Therefor, it's important that you give them a try before moving to harsher methods such as the one used to repair the table in the video.

Fighting Fire With Fire

The use of heat to remove heat marks

Heat the finish with a blow dryer, heat gun or iron to soften the finish so it consolidates.

This may restore some of the transparency if you get the temperature just right , especially on modern film finishes that are unaffected by the above techniques. However, PROCEED WITH CAUTION -  if you get the finish too hot, it will blister. Once the finish is blistered or burned, it is irreversible and will require refinishing.  Avoid getting the finish any hotter than is comfortable to touch.




Set the hair dryer on medium heat and hold it three to six inches away from the stain to begin with. As you apply heat, use a soft cotton cloth to buff away the mark.  Be sure not to get too close and blister the finish. The process can take from five to twenty minutes.  Continue wiping until the surface is blemish-free.

*When Using Heat - Please Proceed With Caution

Remember, heat is also a technique used to remove finish and veneer.

Enough said.....

hair dryer

Using an iron to remove heat and water rings


  1. Turn your iron on, adjusting its heat setting to medium. Turn off the iron's steam switch, if applicable, to ensure that the iron remains dry. Wait for several minutes to allow the iron to heat up completely.
  2. Place a clean, dry cotton cloth over the water ring on the wood surface. Set the iron down on top of the cloth, centering it over the ring stain. Press the iron down and begin moving the iron in circular motions. I always suggest to keep the iron moving. Within 3-5 seconds, remove the iron.
  3. Remove the iron and lift the cloth from the surface. Check the surface to see if the ring remains visible. Replace the cloth and reapply the iron in the same manner as before. Repeat this process as needed until the stain disappears.




Re-Amalgamating A Finish

*Amalgamation is the process of combining two or more things into one form. Re-amalgamating a finish is the process of returning a finish that has separated due to heat or moisture into a unified finish

IN THE VIDEO ABOVE,  Rod shows us a gentile form of amalgamating lacquer to remove  white water and heat stains using Lacquer thinner and Howards Restor A Finish.

The process is the same for re-amalgamating shellac and lacquer the only difference is the solvent used.  For lacquer, we use lacquer thinner. For shellac, we us denatured alcohol.  It’s important to work fast and concentrate on a small area at a time.

*Warning - Using heat or solvents on your furniture "can" cause severe damage to the finish - and even to the wood itself. Test on inconspicuous areas first and proceed with caution.

As a rule, we advise against using an Iron or re-amalgamation unless you are prepared to refinish as you last resort. Both processes "can" work in removing white moisture blotches, but both processes can also make your situation worse resulting in the need to refinish. Results will vary and are unpredictable.